Working as a therapist in private practice, I have become aware of the pervasive problem we have with kids and smartphone addiction. Teens tell me all the time that they are addicted to their phones and that they wish they weren’t. We have all heard about the latest science behind why we should be concerned about our kids and their smartphones, but we haven’t been given very many actual solutions for how to decrease the chance of addiction. In an effort to help both teens and parents, I have come up with some concrete things parents can do.
This blog post will deal with the #1 most important thing I believe parents can do, and that is to delay giving their child a smartphone. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that your child needs a smartphone (ie. “I need to be able to contact her and she’s too embarrassed use a flip phone”, or “he will be excluded/she will have no friends”, “he will be left out of important school or social events”, etc.) None of these things are true. First of all, when you are beginning to give your child more independence, start by getting a home phone (if you don’t already have one). This way if you leave your child home alone you can still reach her/she can reach you. (Home phones all have caller ID now so there is no need to worry that she will talk to strangers. Teach her not to answer the phone if she doesn’t know the number). Kids need to learn to actually speak to people on the telephone, this is an important life skill! I believe it’s also important to teach our children some independence when they are out in the world. When you are first allowing him out on his own, have him take safe routes, or only go to a friend’s house, or stay in town. If he needs to contact you teach him to go into a store and ask to use the phone behind the counter, or ask a woman with children (considered the safest stranger to ask for help), or borrow their friend’s phone! When you finally feel they need a phone, start with a dumb phone. There is no need for your child to have access to the internet or apps on their phone! In fact it is the ability to play video games, use social media and access the internet that in my opinion creates the worst addiction. You can figure out creative ways to let them have music or a camera. Record players are back in style! Get an ipod nano, give them a real camera! (You can also “dumb down” a smartphone, taking off internet or ability to use apps.)
Teach them that if their friends tease them or make them feel bad that they don’t have a smartphone, then they aren’t good friends!
Allow your child’s prefrontal cortex to develop before you give them a smartphone. The younger they are, the harder it is for them to regulate their smartphone use and the more likely they are to become addicted to it. Research has even proposed a correlation between smartphone addiction and substance addiction later in life. This is serious stuff. Remember, by delaying your child’s access to a smartphone, you are not being evil, you are being a good parent, who cares about your child’s brain and social emotional development!
For more concrete ways on how to decrease your child’s screen addiction or even to raise your child without a smartphone (What?! Is this possible?? Yes it is!!), check out the website: Familiesmanagingmedia.com
What if your child already has a smartphone? Don’t worry there are still lots of ways you can decrease their chance of addiction. Keep an eye out for future blog posts where I will be sharing lots more concrete tips!